Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 21, 2022

Blog Roundup

1. Through Harry Binswanger's Value for Value blog, I learned of a talk (embedded below) that he gave last year titled "All Regulation is Over-Regulation."

Looking at issues from the standpoint of whether or not they constitute preventive law is immensely clarifying.
I agree, and highly recommend the blog post as well as the lecture.

2. At the blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips correctly notes that Ron DeSantis's lack of principles is behind his failure to speak up against "lockdowns" earlier in the pandemic:
The lock down should have been opposed as a matter of principle. Principles allow us to project the long-term consequences of an action. However, if one lacks principles, then one can only experiment to find "what works." One does "whatever it takes" without regard to the long-term consequences. And that has been the predominant point of view since the beginning of the pandemic. [link in original]
I live in Florida, and I remember when the two weeks my kids were kept from school got extended repeatedly. I remember yelling in exasperation at one point: What do I have to do, get the governor's permission to live my life?

For the same reason DeSantis didn't nip "lockdowns" in the bud, he's now forbidding companies from making their own policies, be they vaccination as a condition of employment or -- beyond the pandemic -- being able to decide who can or can't be a customer, as in the case of Twitter.

3. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn argues that the best way to help the poor is to stop "redistributing" wealth:
Contrary to the inequality narrative, people are not poor because someone else is rich. Wealth is not a fixed pie; it is created and expanded through productive effort. Poverty is caused by the lack of freedom to produce and to keep the fruits of production, and by people’s choices when they are free to choose.
She elaborates on this line of thought throughout and ends with an interesting quote in support from Benjamin Franklin.

4. If you think self-affirmation is clichéd at best, let me commend you to Thinking Directions for a re-thinking of the concept.

After first acknowledging that most affirmations seem little better than "a silly attempt to brainwash yourself," Jean Moroney considers using them differently in a couple of ways: (1) to remind yourself of your values and (2) to help yourself achieve positive change. She explains in part:
The positive statement needs to do three things:

First, it needs to connect logically to the problem you expect to face. For example, if you are an experienced writer worried about writer's block, you might use an affirmation like, "I can write easily and well."

Second, it needs to trigger a value-laden emotion in you. This is one reason the affirmation needs to be true. If you don't believe you can write easily and well, the line "I can write easily and well" will trigger doubt, not confidence. You may need to adjust the formulation so it is true and motivating to you. For example, a beginning writer might use "I am learning to write easily and well."

Finally, the thought needs to trigger in your mind constructive steps you can take. As an experienced writer, when I remind myself "I can write easily and well," I bring up a whole system of non-fiction writing tools that I've developed. I remember that I have a gazillion ways to make my writing easier and clearer.
So, far from the kind of piety that comedian Jack Handey got so much comedic mileage from, a really good affirmation will actually be helpful. Of course, choosing a good one will likewise require more effort than thumbing through a book of inspirational quotations. To get some help in that regard, too, see the rest of the post.

-- CAV

Stossel: Pandemic Policy Good and Bad in a Nutshell

Thursday, January 20, 2022

John Stossel's latest column lays out in easy-to-remember terms the good and bad effects of lockdown policies, as well as the contradictions in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's answer to those policies:

Stossel notes that Eric Swallwell (D-CA), like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), sneers at Florida publicly, but escapes his own lockdowns by visiting the state. (Image by U. S. Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
The one clear trend: Lockdowns don't stop COVID-19, but they do destroy opportunity. California's unemployment is the highest in America.

Florida did some bad things. DeSantis should pay more attention to his own pro-freedom speeches. Last year, he decreed that even private companies may not require customers or workers to be vaccinated.

Governor? They're private companies! They should [sic] have the right to make their own decisions. It's usually the totalitarian left that won't let people set their own rules.

Aside from that nastiness, Florida's COVID-19 policies are among the most sensible. [bold added]
I would have been happier had Stossel explicitly noted that lockdowns -- i.e., universal, indefinite home detention -- violate individual rights.

Nevertheless, Stossel deserves our thanks for calling out DeSantis for abrogating the rights of businessmen to make their own rules, as well as for noting that the only solid data we have on lockdowns is that they cripple the economy.

-- CAV

Remembering the First Atheist I Knew

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Image by Immo Wegmann, via Unsplash, license.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. I didn't get the full program, though, as a friend familiar with the religion once put it, because my parents had converted to the religion from different mainline Protestant backgrounds.

In other words, my parents were not thoroughly indoctrinated into that religion and there was no long family tradition of Catholic guilt: We attended chuch each week, but I would not call my home life particularly religious, and, although my parents leaned right, they were tolerant of religious differences and politically secular.

Would I have ended up not being as independent-minded if things had been different? There is no way to know, but my life could have been very difficult, to say the least. I am grateful that my parents respected the fact that I had a mind of my own.

During freshman year of high school, I had to carpool with a family that more thoroughly integrated that religion into their lives, and it was through the mother I first heard the term atheist.

At some point during a trip from school, she asked me how I liked high school. I remember at some point saying something to the effect that my biology teacher was both my strictest and my favorite teacher. I no longer recall what led up to this, but the mother stated with obvious disapproval that he was an atheist.

I was silently shocked that anyone could speak ill of this teacher.

That was pretty much the end of that part of the conversation.

But, although the memory stayed with me, neither what she said nor how she said it made a jot of difference to me insofar as my admiration of this teacher's intellect and fairness went. He had a good sense of humor and was an excellent teacher for high school students: He dealt with us as much as possible like we were intelligent adults, and I very much appreciate that to this day.

Other than offer to let fundamentalists sit outside the classroom before his lecture on evolution (there were no takers), he never brought up religion in his class. (I did once overhear a classmate ask him if he were an atheist once during a lab section, and him answer that he was -- matter-of-factly, and steering the conversation to other things without missing a beat. He could do that, because we all liked and respected him.)

On balance, I would say I learned a lot more about my classmate's mother that day than I did about atheists generally or my teacher in particular. And that was hardly the first time I'd run into a person who professes Love thy neighbor as thyself, but smears another person behind his back for the crime of coming to his own conclusions about something.

Whether such people are following that maxim is an exercise I leave to the reader.

-- CAV

Paul Graham on Good Taste

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Although Paul Graham doesn't get around to saying exactly what good taste is or might be, his most recent essay is a good argument for its existence, not to mention food for thought on many related issues.

Highly relevant to all of this is why he felt the need to argue the point:

Image by Amy-Leigh Barnard, via Unsplash, license.
When I was a kid, I'd have said there wasn't. My father told me so. Some people like some things, and other people like other things, and who's to say who's right?

It seemed so obvious that there was no such thing as good taste that it was only through indirect evidence that I realized my father was wrong. And that's what I'm going to give you here: a proof by reductio ad absurdum. If we start from the premise that there's no such thing as good taste, we end up with conclusions that are obviously false, and therefore the premise must be wrong.
One such conclusion is that "If there's no such thing as good taste, then there's no such thing as good art."

This is a profound point, and points to an important implicit premise: There must be good, bad, and objective ways to distinguish between the two. (I think Graham agree on good and bad, but is unsure on the matter of objectivity.)

This Graham assumes, and it is fun and instructive to see where he goes with art -- an area for which there is no shortage of people who will claim that it is a subjective, anything goes type of endeavor.

And that is on top of the fact that people can have other bases for disagreement about judging art, just like they can for anything else. Oh, and Graham very interestingly hits on an issue I wouldn't have thought of on my own -- the idea that the goodness of art might be inherent to the object:
The other reason people doubt that art can be good is that there doesn't seem to be any room in the art for this goodness. The argument goes like this. Imagine several people looking at a work of art and judging how good it is. If being good art really is a property of objects, it should be in the object somehow. But it doesn't seem to be; it seems to be something happening in the heads of each of the observers. And if they disagree, how do you choose between them? [bold added]
I don't agree with his answer to this problem, but I enjoyed reading it:
The solution to this puzzle is to realize that the purpose of art is to work on its human audience, and humans have a lot in common. And to the extent the things an object acts upon respond in the same way, that's arguably what it means for the object to have the corresponding property. If everything a particle interacts with behaves as if the particle had a mass of m, then it has a mass of m. So the distinction between "objective" and "subjective" is not binary, but a matter of degree, depending on how much the subjects have in common. Particles interacting with one another are at one pole, but people interacting with art are not all the way at the other; their reactions aren't random -- far from it. [bold added]
Graham follows this with other thoughts that, while I didn't agree with all of them, I found them worthwhile.

It is at this point that I think it is worthwhile to recall Ayn Rand's definition of art, since it touches on the fact that art is intended for a human audience:
Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments. Man's profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man's fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man's consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence.
Even with this, there is much we have yet to learn from many disciplines before we'd be able to develop anything close to a comprehensive understanding of how to judge whether art is good, but that doesn't mean there aren't objective criteria for good art or that it is impossible to judge the merit of a work of art. (See Rand, especially regarding what it would take to have objective criteria for judging music.)

That makes it a little harder to say what good taste is, but my stab at it would be this: Good taste describes a highly intuitive or near-instantaneous ability -- perhaps derived through long or thorough study of a field -- to accurately judge something as good or bad.

I think taste can be corrected or improved through study or, for an intellectually active mind, by immersion in a field. However, it is an interesting question as to how much, because I would suspect that there has to be integration between one's conscious premises and aspects of one's subconscious mind, i.e. one's emotional responses and one's memories. The first is within one's control and the other likely isn't, or at least isn't completely.

-- CAV

Californians to Waste More Time Recycling

Monday, January 17, 2022

If you live in California, rev up your garbage disposal!

It's that, or waste time and effort storing your food waste as if it were gold so you can have it picked up for recycling:

Penn and Teller's lineup of trash cans with timed sorting and a bullhorn for errors captures the absurdity of recycling. But only free men have the luxury of laughing at the absurd. (Screen Capture by Gus Van Horn, via Penn and Teller: Bullshit, S. 2, Ep. 5. I believe this to be permissible as Fair Use under U.S. copyright law.)
Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate such "green" waste from other trash, but the program will be rolled out gradually for homes and businesses in the coming months, with the actual startup date varying, depending on the location of your home or business.

Fines can be levied for failing to separate organic refuse from other trash. But those charges aren't scheduled to begin until 2024. CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the change, has lots of information about the new requirements on its website. [bold added]
Whether you regard this as a good idea or agree with me that recycling is a wasteful activity, this will be at your own expense as a taxpayer, of course.

Many, if not most people will see this as a good idea, although it in fact entails the threat of government force to prescribe a small amount of labor in addition to theft in the bargain. Even if I believed that global warming were an immanent threat and that diverting the greenhouse gases from food decomposition would actually make a difference, I would oppose this law.

There is no such thing as a valid excuse for even the slightest degree of slavery, and this law is no exception.

Shame on California for this latest in its assault on liberty.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, January 14, 2022

Notable Commentary

Image by Mufid Majnun, via Unsplash, license.
"Trusted messengers, in familiar settings, are key to moving the needle on vaccination rates." -- Amesh Adalja, in "With Child Vaccines, We Enter a New Phase of COVID-19 Pandemic" (The Hill)

"In the context of Omicron, it's worth considering how original antigenic sin factors into discussions of boosting young, healthy adults with the current COVID-19 vaccines." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Don't Jump the Gun on Boosting All Adults" (Medpage Today)

"It's important to emphasize, considering widespread disinformation from the anti-vaccine movement, that there is no 'antigen overload' risk with combination vaccines." -- Amesh Adalja, in "The Technological Marvel of Combination Vaccines" (Medpage Today)

"[T]oo many public health officials issued pronouncements without adequately conveying the lack of certainty." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How Public Health Officials Have Lost Many Americans' Trust, and How They Can Regain It" (Forbes)

"Without property rights securing the fruits of these high-risk, high-cost labors, medical miracles won't happen." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Waiving Vaccine Patents Would Imperil Public Health" (The Virginian-Pilot)

"As a matter of moral principle, there is no difference between the farmer who labors for a year to create crops to sell in the market -- armed with the knowledge that the fruits of his labors will be secured to him as his property -- and the scientists, engineers, and physicians who engage in inventive labors for years knowing that patents will secure the fruits of their productive labors." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Pandemics, Patents, and Price Controls" (PDF, Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum 285, 2021)

"President Washington's deeds and Madison's words speak volumes about the original understanding of patents and copyrights in the Founding Era: They were property rights and deserved the same legal and constitutional protections afforded all other property rights." -- Adam Mossoff, in "The Constitutional Protection of Intellectual Property" (PDF, Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum 282, 2021)

"When government funds a particular scientific viewpoint, it is establishing it unfairly." -- Raymond Niles, in "Wuhan Lab Controversy Illustrates How Government Funding Throttles Scientific Integrity" (The American Institute for Economic Research)

"Undoubtedly, the Trump-started and Biden-continued trade war with the Chinese has disrupted global supply chains and contributed to worldwide shortages and shipping disruptions." -- Raymond Niles, in "Hostility to Free Trade Is Now Officially Bipartisan" (The American Institute for Economic Research)

"The Power to debauch the money is the Power of the One Ring." -- Keith Weiner, in "What Trick did Tricky Dicky Pull 50 Years Ago Today? " (SNB & CHF)

"The prices of commodities, and manufactured goods alike, have been rising due to non-monetary forces." -- Keith Weiner, in "Why Isn't Gold Going Up with Inflation?" (SNB & CHF)

-- CAV

This Guy Was President?

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Having to do an inordinate amount of driving around lately, I've been treating myself to some very interesting podcasts. One of these was last year's discussion of the events of that January sixth by Elan Journo and Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute. I'm not all the way through it, but this has been very thought-provoking and I highly recommend it. (See Note below if video appears to be unavailable.)

As someone who did not closely follow the events then and have no truck with partisan accounts on either side of it, this has been the even-handed analysis I have wanted.

One bizarre thing that came up -- about the point I'm at now -- was a well-debunked claim that Trump has made repeatedly since about 2013, including several times while in office, about being one of the last five guests on Oprah Winfrey's show:
Her last couple of shows. You know, it was a big deal, who was gonna be her last week; I guess her last week. I was on her show for the last week.

In other words, the entire show was devoted to I think five different people. I was one of the five. Oprah liked me. And maybe still does, I don't know. But Oprah is great.
Ghate ably discusses the philosophical implications of the fact that Trump made this arbitrary claim at all and then continues to do so in blatant disregard for the truth.

I will simply ask -- and I don't know as of the time I am writing this if Ghate or Journo take up this line of inquiry -- Why on earth would someone feel the need to make such a claim? And related, I can't help but wonder: Can there be nobody out there who could make a complete ass of Trump during a political debate for making this and (I am sure) similar ridiculous pronouncements?

This guy basically intimidated all the other GOP candidates on his way to the nomination and managed to get elected to a term -- and pulled the second-highest vote total in history when he lost his reelection bid, if memory serves.

I am not sure which I find more disturbing: that this psychological pygmy won the GOP nomination or that nobody in the room, as it were, could or would stand up to him.

-- CAV

Note: I have noticed that if I am logged out of Google, YouTube will claim that the "live event" is unavailable. If you have this problem, go here for alternate sources. There is also a brief written description of what the podcast covers.


: Added comment on availability and alternate link.)